Three things workers need to see in tonight’s Federal Budget

Published: 25/10/2022
Category: Industrial Relations
Published: 25/10/2022
Category: Industrial Relations

A budget in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis

How bad are your bills looking? Across the country, we are dealing with a cost-of-living crisis leaving many Australians worse off. Even paying for the basics such as fuel and groceries is painful. 

Fuel prices have been rising for months and months while fruit and vegetables are up 7.3 per cent with meat, seafood and dairy cost increases not far behind.  

Prices on everything are going up but our wages have failed to match those increases. The budget is one opportunity for the government to turn that trend around. 

But don’t just take it from us. It’s what the experts are saying too. Here are three things they say are urgently needed.

1. Pay increases through stronger bargaining power

Workers have had years of real wage cuts, according to Centre for Future Worker director Jim Stanford. 

“Real wages in Australia have declined during this current inflation back to the levels they were at in 2010. So it’s kind of like a lost decade,” Stanford says. 

But how do we get wages back on track? The key is found in enterprise bargaining agreements.  

Enterprise Bargaining Agreements (EBAs) are the best way of landing a pay rise at work. By rule, they must leave workers better off than they would have been under an Award.  

But few workers in Australia have an EBA at their workplace.  

“Enterprise bargaining now covers barely one worker in ten in the private sector,” Stanford says.  

“In the public sector, you’ve got more people covered by enterprise bargaining, but you’ve also got the government just dictating wage caps for public sector workers.” 

2. Remove pay increase caps for public sector workers

The first thing The Conversation Business and Economy Editor Peter Martin points out is the public sector is so much more than just the public servants in Canberra.  

“When I say public servants, on the whole, they’re not the people sitting at desks. They’re your teachers, they’re your ambulance officers, they’re your nurses, they’re people like that,” Martin says.

Earlier this year, unionised school teachers shared stories of burn out, teacher shortages and their struggle to give kids the support they deserve. 

The situation is a similar one for nurses and midwives who have been on strike three times this year as a last resort to ensure the safety of hospital patients and the wellbeing of staff.

3. Provide a fair and affordable childcare sector

Any support to childcare workers will have a flow on effect to families using childcare services.  

In the words of early childhood educators from across the country: we need to put children before profit.  

Grattan Institute CEO Danielle Wood explains low pay is one of the root causes to the struggling industry. 

“The fact that you can go and earn more working at McDonald’s or Bunnings is pretty shocking,” she says.  

“And [this] has contributed to the fact that we now have significant shortages of childcare workers.”  

The sheer discrepancy of pay between millionaire CEOs of private childcare providers and early childhood educators shows exactly where parents’ hard earned dollars are really ending up.  

Wood explains the low wages – with some educators on rates of around $24 per hour – reflect the ongoing undervaluing of what has traditionally been seen as ‘women’s work’.  

“It’s also the intersection of the fact that they are highly feminised and care work, which there seems to be an expectation that women do selflessly rather than for adequate pay.” 

Australia needs a pay rise

Of course, there are many other measures the government can take in the budget to ease the cost-of-living crisis. 

But in the long run, millions of workers need more than just temporary responses to keep their heads above water. The budget is just one opportunity for the government to implement the change we need to see.  

Wages need to rise and the best way to make that happen is through updating our work laws. 

We want to make sure all Australian workers are able to bargain strong agreements – whether it be to lift pay, expand leave options or provide pathways for casuals to stable work. 

Australia needs a pay rise

Three things workers need to see in tonight’s Federal Budget

Three things workers need to see in tonight’s Federal Budget